Having conquered an entire four lengths of the swimming pool, my doctor now wants me to try lifting some light weights to build up muscle density. She said I can even start at home with canned goods.
Four years ago last month I ran the London marathon. Twenty-six-point-two miles of sweat, back ache, wild cheering crowds, being overtaken by obscenely fit pensioners and the occasional camel – it was one of the greatest days of my life. Today, I risk ending my days trapped underneath a pile of baked bean tins. A lot has changed.
Has my attitude towards exercise taken a dramatic turn over the last four years? Have I suddenly become terminally lazy? Survived a terrible car accident and lost the use of my limbs? None of the above. Relentless fatigue simply arrived in my life after contracting a tropical disease abroad. I started needing a nap just to get through the afternoon in one piece, my daily threshold for physical exertion began to comprise a simple walk to the corner shop and, at it’s worst, I was bedridden and seething with bodily aches and pains. All for no apparent reason.
And that’s the biggest problem for those suffering through the phenomenon GPs are labelling TATT (Tired All The Time) when the blood tests come back clear. Call it chronic fatigue syndrome, ME, burnout, breakdown…whatever you want – most people that feel exhausted all the time for no logical reason simply don’t get a clear answer. And in the absence of a scientifically rooted conclusion, the chronically tired are often just shipped off for psychiatric treatment. If in doubt, it must be all in the head.
And because there’s such a vast grey area circling my condition, the demons of self doubt are never too far away. I’ve often wondered if the problem really is ‘just in my head’? Maybe all those judgey and intolerant people on the outside are right – I’m just lazy.
However a vast proportion of the population that wakes up exhausted after a full night’s sleep every day says otherwise. It’s estimated that around 250,000 people currently live with chronic fatigue syndrome in the UK, and countless others are struggling with persistent, unexplained tiredness and exhaustion.
There are a whole host of possibilities for what’s causing the body to struggle – vitamin and mineral deficiencies, digestive problems, food allergies, inflammation, infection, trauma – but the problems are invariably subtle, chronic and only identifiable on a trial and error basis. Some complicated combination of factors has run the body down over a long period of time – and while chronic exhaustion isn’t necessarily life threatening, it’s certainly life limiting.
I’ve done a hell of a lot of reading over the last year or so, and self education has been key for my burgeoning recovery. The internet is a great starting point for self-help literature, but beware articles written by those that think you’ll spontaneously combust if you eat a non organic grain of rice. It seems there’s a growing population of experts out that that have identified the source of all worldly problems – and it is gluten.
I’m hopeful that in the future the medical profession will be better informed about mystery fatigue ailments. It has to be – unexplained tiredness seems to be mushrooming in modern society. After all, what sort of future can our children look forward to if instead of working together to create a better world, we’re all having a snooze? Until then it’s up to those with tangible experience of chronic weariness – us – to talk and write about our experiences and better educate the wider public. After a nap.